MERRILLVILLE | Before Airrica Harper's sophomore season at Merrillville, her grandfather Joseph Davis was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Harper had recently obtained her drivers license and moved in with her grandparents to help with his treatment. During the ordeal, Harper ran track for Highland because she lived in that district.
She drove her grandfather to appointments, picked up pharmaceuticals and ran errands to keep Grandma from graying further. She stayed successful in school and was a regional qualifier in both short sprints.
“I’m very glad I was able to be there physically and emotionally,” Harper said. “Once he got a lot better, I decided to move back.”
The lifelong Merrillville kid returned to her hometown in time to have a breakout junior season that included regional titles in the 100- and 200-meter dashes and a leg on the Pirates’ 400 relay team that took fourth at state.
Now, knowing that life can lead to the unexpected, Harper, the area’s top returning sprinter, is fully prepared to have a monumental senior season.
This offseason Harper ran with three of the region’s top sprinters -- Lew Wallace senior Arielle Borders, Kankakee Valley’s Leanna Mulloy and Crown Point’s Bailey Beckham.
“You can’t just sit around for six months and expect to come back and P.R.,” Harper said. “The workouts we do … [sigh] I don’t always like them, but I have to get them done.”
Running a dozen 200’s in a row with only 90 seconds recovery time was the worst.
Harper knows practicing with the area’s best during the AAU season with the Merrillville Track Club will be beneficial this season.
“Everyone has the same mindset: ‘I want first no matter what,’” Harper said. “We get on the track, and everyone knows that it’s business and nothing personal.”
Harper was sick for the outdoor DAC meet last season but won the sectional and regional in the 100 and 200 and was 15th and 12th at state in the respective events.
“Once we got her adapted to the training, the fundamentals kicked in and she was peaking at the right time,” Merrillville coach Jeff Fairbairn said. “She’s more influential when she performs how she can. It’s a matter of how much she wants it.”
At the unofficial DAC indoor meet, she broke a meet record in the 55 (7.31), won the 200 (26.66) and ran on the victorious and record-setting four-lap relay team.
The school’s 200 record (25.16 seconds) dates back to 2004, and the 100 record (12.10) has stood 30 years since 1983. Harper wants them both and is close.
“You’ve just got to be ready for what God has in store,” Harper said. “I’m really excited for this season.”